1,319 miles. That’s the distance from Raleigh to Nova Scotia, Canada. It’s also the length of the perimeter of North Carolina’s 1st Congressional district. It spans 24 counties, carving out tiny splotches of voters throughout the northeast portion of the state — and, according to a federal court panel ruling this week, it’s completely gerrymandered.
A 2011 redistricting plan drew two congressional districts — the 1st and 12th — in what could be described as “creative” shapes. The three-judge panel said that the districts were based on race, a statement that should come as a surprise to no one who follows NC politics. This week the federal government said the state has two weeks to make a plan to make these districts fair. No one really knows what happens next.
Primary elections in the state are in about a month. Ballots have already gone to press, with absentee ballots already in the mail. But if the districts are redrawn in the next month, the question of who voters mark at the polls could be up in the air.
Many believe the next step will be to delay the elections. But changing election day is expensive and problematic. The presidential primary could be held on the original day — March 15 — while other races could be decided at a later time, after district changes are made.
And we’re not just talking about folks in the two officially gerrymandered districts. Some pundits estimate almost all the districts east of Charlotte will need to be redrawn to fix the 2011 mistake. Candidates must be sweating as their campaign strategies are thrown into disarray. County elections offices are probably anticipating the overtime it’s going to take to fix this latest problem.
Meanwhile, I’m thinking of the voters. This is the first year North Carolina is requiring photo ID at the polls. Now districts are going to change and voting days might be spread out, moved, or duplicated. And who does that punish? As always, those who can’t get to the polls easily — the elderly, the infirm, and the poor.
I don’t know what the answer is. I’d advocate going back in time and not letting prejudiced lawmakers draw racist districts. But since that ship has sailed, the only way out is through. And that means more chaos in the elections process. Voters must keep watching and keep sharing this news with their friends.
And beyond that, we must elect ethical legislators. As a state we cannot endorse this type of political theater ever again.